It’s impossible to have a police officer on every block of every street in Milpitas, every hour of the day.
The criminals know that, and that’s how they’re getting away with a rising number of residential burglaries in the city this year.
Though the officers of the Milpitas Police Department work hard to try and catch and arrest as many criminals as they can, they know they can’t be everywhere, every minute of the day. That’s why, the department is trying to put the word out lately to encourage more residents to step forward and help safeguard the neighborhoods of Milpitas, through Neighborhood Watch groups.
“It's frustrating. As a department, we try very hard to stay on top of burglaries, obviously, because people need to feel safe about their homes,” said Officer Mark Doyle of the Community Relations department of the Milpitas Police, which organizes the Neighborhood Watch program. “But the fact is, we need people to take the initiative, and join together with their neighbors and with the police department to regain control over their neighborhoods.”
Officer Doyle says, there are 98 registered Neighborhood Watch groups active within Milpitas currently. He explained, it is typically a group of representatives that are from the same named community—such as the Sunnyhills neighborhood—or several residents on a particular street or block. Officer Doyle says all that needs to happen is, one or two people volunteer to be a “captain” of a group, and pick a night and invite all their neighbors over. They schedule it with him and his department, and an officer comes to the gathering to explain how the program works.
Officer Doyle said, one of the biggest benefits of a Neighborhood Watch group is that it encourages neighbors to all get to know one another. When neighbors know each other, he said, they learn what cars each other drive, and what “normal surroundings” are, so it’s easier to tell when something “not normal” is happening on the street or in the community.
The program also offers members of each group valuable tips of what to look out for in terms of crime or suspicious circumstances, and ways to keep their homes and streets safer, such as by getting better locks on their doors; always parking vehicles in well-lit or enclosed areas; perhaps installing security lights and cameras; being more cautious about leaving valuables in vehicles; and more.
“It’s much easier to keep homes safe and secure when residents do all of these types of things, as well as keep their homes well maintained,” Officer Doyle explained.
Officer Doyle said, the program also provides “Neighborhood Watch” signs that can be displayed throughout the area, which he said can help deter would-be criminals.
“If burglars are cruising the streets, if there's a neighborhood with Neighborhood Watch signs displayed, they're much less likely to hit a neighborhood where they know people are keeping a close watch, keeping gates closed and doors locked, and so forth,” he said. “’Beware of Dog’ signs can also be a big help, even if you don’t have a dog.”
Once a group is organized, the department helps the captain or captains set up an e-mail contact list for all members of the group, so that if a crime happens in the neighborhood, everyone can be warned; descriptions of suspects and vehicles can be sent to everyone, as well as any other important information.
Rohit Sharma is the captain of a Neighborhood Watch group for an area near the public library. Sharma said his group wanted to form because he and his neighbors were growing concerned about the rising number of residential crimes in their neighborhood.
“A couple of years back, in 2008, we were seeing a lot of incidents; mainly thefts like break-ins, vandals breaking windows and doors, and people stealing things, even in broad daylight,” Sharma described. “So there was a lot of unrest in the community. We were kind of feeling helpless.”
In 2009, Sharma and a few other nearby homeowners banded together and contacted the police department to see if anything could be done, or if there were any Neighborhood Watch programs in place they could be a part of.
Sharma said he was told that, because his neighborhood was new—it had only been built within the past 15 years—that his neighborhood was not covered by the program, at the time, and that no one had come forward from his area volunteering to be a captain.
It took a few months, but Sharma said he got the help of the department in starting a Neighborhood Watch program for his part of the community.
Sharma said, the police department taught him and his fellow members tips like installing security cameras throughout the neighborhood, closing and locking doors at all times, not leaving possessions out in plain view, and learning to screen home contractors more carefully before hiring them and giving them access to their homes.
“I would say, yes, it has contributed to things getting better around here,” Sharma said. “But, I think a lot of it is, people just getting more proactive themselves.”
Officer Doyle said, teaching people just to be more confident and more proactive is what it’s all about—and residents being more vigilant has definitely proven helpful in nabbing a handful of criminals lately. A group of suspects were arrested recently after ; one resident’s tip led police to caught in possession of the property they stole; and another man and called in to report it, leading to their arrest.
“Victims feel very violated. It causes concern and feelings of uneasiness throughout the neighborhood,” Officer Doyle said. “So, if more Neighborhood Watch groups can be educated for what to look out for and how to be vigilant, that could be the break we need to catch even more criminals.”
If you are interested in learning more about the Milpitas Police Department’s Neighborhood Watch program, or are interested in starting your own group, contact Officer Mark Doyle in the Community Relations Department at 408-586-2526 or email@example.com.